Making it on the endangered species list is becoming a harder feat every day, as the number of threatened species rises along with climate change. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing new ways to protect the high number of threatened species.

The hāhā plant, one of many Hawaiian species proposed for the endangered species list
The hāhā plant, one of many Hawaiian species proposed for the endangered species list. Credit: David Eickhoff/Flickr

Last week, FWS announced a proposal to protect 38 Hawaiian species (35 plants and three snails) under the Endangered Species Act, making Hawaii the U.S. state with the highest number of federally listed and candidate species. These plants and animals — some of which have populations in single and double digits — are all native to the Hawaiian islands of Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Maui, collectively known as the Maui Nui island cluster. This new FWS proposal, known as the Maui Nui listing and critical habit package, advocates not only for getting the 38 species on the endangered list, but also proposes name and spelling changes for 13 listed species, delisting one plant and designating 271,062 acres on the islands as critical habitat.

Newcomb’s tree snail, found only on the island of Maui
Newcomb’s tree snail, found only on the island of Maui. Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Almost all of the proposed species are threatened by habitat loss and competition from non-native species like pigs, goats and deer. Other threats include natural disasters, agricultural developments and climate change. Because habitat loss is such a pressing issue for many of the species, the FWS is focusing its efforts on preserving total ecosystems instead of small habitats for individual species. This idea of designating large areas as critical habitat for a range of species is a new one for the FWS — this proposal is only the third of its kind. Many of these native Hawaiian species live in similar ecosystems, so instead of dividing and conquering, which would diminish the effect of already stretched funds, the FWS is identifying and preserving large sections of habitat that can then benefit each individual species. This is an approach that American Forests greatly supports, as every element in an ecosystem — from individual plant species and animals to soil, water and air — affects another element. Therefore, we should be managing for ecosystem survival as much as individual species.

However, there is still the issue of funding. Because of the increasing number of species being threatened in recent years, many proposed animals and plants often get placed on the Endangered Species waiting list. Twenty of the species in the Maui Nui proposal are currently candidate species for the list, meaning the FWS has enough information to propose them for the Endangered Species Act, but higher priority issues and species are keeping them from being considered for addition. The problem with candidate species is that while they are recognized as being in trouble, they do not receive protection or funding from the government.

With the Maui Nui proposal public, but still no funding, there is not much to do but wait and see if these threatened species and their habitat make the list under this new ecosystem approach.